THE BLACK WIDOW
A silken web slips across my face as we emerge from the wood, dense with oak and scrub. I step out of the mass of mangled ivy curling round my ankles and stop, dead still, smoothing the back of my hand across my cheek. There’s nothing there. Jake gives me a look.
“Spider’s web,” I answer his unasked question, and a shiver shimmies up my spine.
“Hurry up!” he grumbles. “We’ll be late for tea,” and he charges on through the long grass to the velvet lawn.
I stand a moment, looking up at the Georgian house across the green expanse, watching the windows aligned in proud symmetry on its stone façade observe me with disdain. Inside, the chink of teaspoons on bone china would be punctuating the murmur of subdued chatter, and delicate pastries would be being served on three-tiered cake stands as a string trio sighs softly in a corner.
I can’t tell Jake about when I used to come here before – though Rory and I had been too nervous to cross the threshold of the hotel, too naïve even to ask if we might have tea. We were newly married and merely wandered in the wood and danced in dappled sunlight, while birdsong serenaded our lovemaking and the umber scent of trees and dark earth bound us tight together. We would laugh and dip our toes in the chill waters of the pond, hidden behind the banks of hawthorn and cow parsley, and roll in the long grass here on the edge of the wood. We were happy … for a while. But then the pain began. And then the poisonous tendrils of ivy twisted and turned and crept like a noose around his neck, stealing his breath, and his life. And it was over.
“Come on!” Jake yells impatiently from across the lawn. “I haven’t paid a fortune to stay in a first-rate hotel and get messed up by sodding weeds and mud!” He brushes his hands briskly over neatly pressed trousers. “You’re so weird! Why can’t you show some appreciation for God’s sake?”
I linger in the long grass a moment longer, casting a backward glance at the wood and the memories before stepping forward, promising I’d return. And bring Jake with me to weave a rope of woven ivy around his neck. Just like I did before.